Madama Butterfly

I have just been to the Opera. So today 21 May it’s all about Giacomo Puccini and Madama Butterfly.

I am not what you would call an Opera buff. I have been to the Opera before, most memorably in Verona Italy to see the splendid spectacle of Carmen being performed in the Roman amphitheatre there. That night it took me abut 20 minutes to adjust my hearing to accommodate the fact that the performers were not wearing microphones and that their craft depended entirely on their unbelievable ability to project their voices into impossibly large spaces. No wonder they do their breathing exercises.

Armed with that knowledge, my husband and I set off for a performance of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly,  a co-production of Opera Queensland, Houston Grand Opera, Grand Théâtre de Genève and Lyric Opera of Chicago.The big melodies (I won’t call them show stoppers as that is much too low brow for Opera)  include the arias Humming Chorus and One Fine Day (Un bel dì). Pucinni is also responsible for La Boheme, Tosca and Turandot so you’d be forgiven for expecting big things.

The opera is the story of a 15 year old Butterfly Cio-Cio San who comes from a wealthy family but now makes a living working as a Geisha (which, it should be pointed out, doesn’t mean prostitute). She falls in love and intends to marry an American naval officer stationed in Nagasaki Benjamin Pinkerton, who I personally think is a bit of a grub.What sort of bloke would sing about how brief he is expecting the marriage to be, whilst Butterfly professes to her family how deeply she is in love? She converts to Christianity, marries him and is shunned by her family for her efforts.

Not long after the wedding, Butterfly’s new husband sails back to America, leaving her to give birth to a son and devotedly wait for his return. As the years pass, she is sustained by the hope that her husband’s ship will return. But when he does, he brings his American wife Kate with him and guess what? Kate wants to adopt the child.  Pinkerton then sings of his own distress, admitting he is too much of a coward to face Butterfly. Where does this guy get off?

Butterfly agrees to hand over the child if and only if Pinkerton returns in half an hour to pick him up himself. Butterfly blindfolds her son and gives him a little American flag to wave as his father returns. Sooo sad. She takes a knife and stabs herself (cue suicide aria) falling dead as the cries of Pinkerton are heard offstage.

Madama Butterfly premiered at La Scala in Milan, Italy on the 17th of February, 1904, where it was roundly hissed, jeered and booed. Puccini  withdrew the score after that performance, modified it and cannily staged the work 60 miles to the east in Bresciaon where it was a rousing success.

I am not sure I loved the story line of Madame Butterfly but it appears I am out of sync with everyone else because according to  Operabase, from 2008 to 2013 Madama Butterfly was the 6th Most Performed Opera in the world. But I did like the staging and the beautiful visual images the opera evokes. It also means I get to wrap with Japanese paper – always a treat. I also wanted to the wrapping to complement the performance program which used quite an unusual tone of maroon.

Not to be daunted I found the paper I wanted and added in some 3D butterflies which I created using a craft punch. I have used this particular craft punch before and it is a fair bit of effort to get a perfect butterfly that doesn’t catch on the metal punch through bit thing. I even tried the crafters hack of punching out a shape in aluminium foil to sharpen up the edges. I probably wont buy  a punch with such an intricate pattern again but I will keep my eye out for other butterfly opportunities. And I ‘ll keep my eye out for another Opera that takes my fancy too – just not one where the lead male is such a cad.

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